Best breakfast in the world ever: rice krispies with chocolate cake crumbs scraped out of the tin (waste not, want not) and raspberries and tea. Cool scented breeze from the park, tweety birds, puppy curled at feet, etc.
Raspberries from the late-night fruit stand near Lincoln Center, purchased after seeing Giselle
yesterday. Manhattan life does have its good sides, and being able to buy cheap, delicious summer fruit in the middle of the night after going to the ballet and before an easy subway ride home is definitely one of them.
I find ballet (and gymnastics, and one or two similar things) awfully compelling - something about having tremendous control over your body such that you can do beautiful things and make it look easy. I can do that a bit with calligraphy, but that's scarcely a whole-body enterprise. It's also just nice watching people who are really good
at what they do; Xiomara Reyes wasn't, I think, the best Giselle ever (but terribly impressive nonetheless, obviously), and Angel Corella was rather splendid.
Also yesterday, the groundsmen were in, so the gates to the flowerbeds and lawns were unlocked (they keep them locked away behind iron fences lest anybody do something as inconsiderate as, you know, lie on the grass, or sit under the trees). So I went in and dead-headed the roses and pulled some of the bindweed off the honeysuckle (discovered a patch of mint in the process).
Living half in the fantasy world wherein I have a garden, I let the dog off the lead while I was pottering about; she sprawled in the sunshine and rolled happily in my weed pile. I was very proud of her: when she wanted to have a poo, she went out and did it on the path where it's easy to pick up, instead of doing it on the grass. And then she came back to the weed pile like a good dog.
Now she's curled up on the towel I carelessly dropped on the floor, I'm about to work on a ketubah (up to my ears in ketubot this season, thankfully), and all is well.
(Edited to add: later, she took her chewy into her crate, and dropped off to sleep whilst chewing it, so when I look into the crate I see one flippy-flappy ear flopped over a chewed chewy, and a curled-up sleeping dog. It's impossible to get any work done around here, I tell you.)
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For the various people who were asking about my challah recipe, the following makes 1 loaf; I'd allow 1 loaf for 4-6 people at a Shabbes table, and multiply up as necessary.
1/2 tsp yeast (start in warm water)
1 egg, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup oil (beat up)
2 cups bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
I drop it all in the food mixer and add enough water that a soft, quite sticky dough forms. The food mixer also kneads it, which is handy, and heats it up a bit, which is also handy.
Then I let it rise in the warm for a couple hours, knock it down, shape it, let it rise another hour or so, and bake at 350-ish until loaves sound hollow when tapped underneath. I usually glaze with oil after 15 minutes in the oven; egg works too but I never remember to save some from the initial stage and hate wasting a whole extra egg.
Note - this recipe makes a delicious, soft loaf that doesn't hold a shape well - if you want to do anything more complex than a braid, you need a stiffer dough.
I've always enjoyed this sort of thing. Making miniatures, I mean, not Judaising Barbie, that's just a side-effect. These days, now I have a scanner and a super-duper colour printer, it's so easy...back in the days of dot-matrix printers, you had to find little images in magazines and flyers and so on, and there was always a certain sense of glee when you found something you could turn into a miniature. Now, I want to make a box of matzah, I can just scan a box of matzah...
Anyway, this is Passover Barbie. She eats Streit's matzah
, and not just because it's pink.
To make your own box of Barbie matzah you will need:
Measure, mark, and cut four pieces of corrugated cardboard 30mm*27mm. Tape them together in a bundle. These are your matzot (hahaha, insert matzah/cardboard joke of choice here).
Print and cut out the scanned wrapper. You can see where the folds would be in real life - fold along those. Pre-folding it makes wrapping the cardboard matzah in its wrapper much easier; it is a bit fiddly. Wrap it up; glue the wrapper into place as you go, or you can tape it if you're careful to tape the whole box evenly all over (if you don't, it just looks a bit silly). The 27mm is the vertical dimension, but you probably figured that out already.
I don't want to take commissions for these...I appreciate that not everyone has hands that can do fiddlies, but as fiddlies go it's quite an easy one, so there are lots of people out there who can do it, and chances are you know one of them.
Combination of me being in a Box Painting Phase and being fed up with cardboard boxes of teabags getting crushed in the cupboard: me painting tea boxes, and doing an extra set because why not. Clicky pictures for biggers.
So these are dear little wooden boxes, shiny green/blue/purple on the outside with classy cream accents if I do say it myself. Gloss black on the inside. Each box contains 10 teabags - of course you don't have to use them for teabags, but they're quite cute that way. Black-Tea-And-Mint, Blueberry, and Blackcurrant-Ginseng-And-Vanilla, if you were wondering. Green, blue, and purple, see.
Each box has a window in the lid. Behind the window I wrote the flavour of the tea inside, but you can take that out and replace it with something else if you feel like it, as per picture, or just have the window look right through to the contents of the box.
Charity auction is for the set of three.
Since we're between Purim and Pesach, the charities I'm choosing are Save Darfur
, City Harvest
, National Coalition for the Homeless
, and Free the Slaves
. Auction ends Friday March 20th. Winner donates auction amount to one of these (or equivalent, I am quite reasonable) and forwards me the receipt; when I get the receipt from your donation, I send you your boxes.
I've got a few others
I'll probably put up in the same way sometime before Pesach, depending how this one goes.
I nearly ran out of the sermon screaming this week.
Our rabbi is great, and his sermons are unusual - they're actually worth listening to. He's one of the rare people I will make an effort to hear, rather than sneak out to avoid; he doesn't say obnoxious stuff or stupid stuff, and quite often he says really thoughtful, interesting, intelligent stuff. So this week, when he said something that made me go hot and cold and trembly, it was an experience out of the ordinary.
I'm going to tell you about it because it's interesting, but remember that our rabbi is the nicest, kindest, most menschlik person you could imagine, and what happened is the fault of the culture we live in, not the fault of our rabbi. Our rabbi is a simply splendid chap and you should think very highly of him, please.
The subject was the Ten Commandments, and what the mystical commentary the Zohar has to say about "Do not murder," "Do not steal," and "Do not commit adultery."
Basically the Zohar chooses to blur the moral absolutes - i.e. there are many impulses which in moderation are very good things, and in extremis are really really bad. For example: the impulse that leads to stealing isn't actually bad, because Wanting Things fuels things like art and civilisation, just when it goes bad it becomes stealing. Getting inspiration from someone else is a sort of stealing, if you look at it one way, but it's not bad stealing. There's generally moderate versions of things which are good.
When giving a sermon you're supposed to bring an example from real life so that your congregation can connect on a personal level. Our rabbi knows his homiletics, and he told a story about a friend who wanted to lose weight. The friend would be so good denying himself fat or carbs or whatever it was, and then he would crack and eat steak and ice-cream and things and Stop Dieting because he had Failed.
This was the point where I wanted to get up and leave, get out, run away. You see why I was so distressed?
What are the sins in this sermon so far?
THIS SERMON JUST COMPARED BEING FAT TO MURDER, THEFT AND ADULTERY.
Not on purpose, you understand. That wasn't the point of the sermon. Nonetheless, that's what just happened, and it knocked me sideways.
The rabbi is speaking in the vocabulary of our cultural narrative, and we have a very powerful cultural narrative that says eating is a morally dubious act. To diet is to be virtuous; to eat as much as you want is to be grossly inappropriate. We surround ourselves with the message that no effort is too extreme, no sacrifice too great, if thinness will result. To be thin is a constant, all-consuming goal for an enormous number of people.
The cultural narrative, in other words, does seem to put eating on a par with murder, theft, and adultery, so it should come as no surprise that our rabbi chose eating to illustrate a point about impulses which have the potential to be socially destabilising on a grand scale.
For me, this eating-message isn't compatible with the Jewish message. The eating-message says: your body is gross and you are gross for letting it be that way, and if you work very very hard, it might one day be marginally closer to acceptable than it is now. But my Jewish message says: every human being is worthwhile; the world is good; to live is to reflect the Divine glory.
So it distressed me to hear eating being semi-consciously compared to murder. Validating the idea that bodies are inherently repellent by speaking about dieting in a sermon validates the idea that you can only be happy and healthy if you are thin. It validates a corrosive, body-hating, self-hating philosophy.
The stated message of the sermon was this idea that many things are good in moderation but damaging in extremes. I'm okay with this. I accept that too much eating can be damaging. (Likewise breathing too much oxygen.) That's a perfectly reasonable message for a sermon. But it concerns me that the subtle message, the one that is heard by the brain and not by the ears, the one that lurks in the subconscious, was far more sinister.
That was what I heard from the pulpit this Shabbat, and that was why I wanted to run out screaming.
P.S. Please remember to blame the culture and not the rabbi. It's not. his. fault. Okay?
What a nice day.
Did a little final-tweaking on a piece of art, right; click for bigger. Illustrated Torah portion for a bat mitzvah gift.
Then second-breakfast at the Corner Cafe in Riverdale, fulfilling the ritual requirement of doughnuts, it being the last day of Hanukah. The Corner Cafe features, in my mental map, largely as a provider of truly atrocious parve cookies, so it was with a certain degree of resignation I bit into my doughnut, but my unflagging commitment to ritual duty was rewarded; it was a very nice doughnut
. Sweet but not nauseating, crisp on the outside but nice and springy in the middle. Three cheers for the Corner Cafe, say I, and we'll say no more about those unfortunate cookies.
This with CH, doing the sort of admin tasks which loom intimidatingly and are better tackled in company. There's only so long you can spin out a doughnut, so then we adjourned to her place for more work on said admin, which turned into lengthy conversation on all kinds of things with intermittent tea and cholent. Decided that she and LSB and I should disagree concisely and pithily every so often, since we disagree interestingly and creatively; more on this as and when.
Haven't had a day in quite some time where I didn't have a quota to fill or some other guilt hanging over me, where I could just noodle about doing stuff, not doing stuff, at will. Coming home, it was quite odd to realise I don't have to spend the next four hours working late to compensate for having wasted the day - really very
cheering, once I got used to the idea.
Talmud which made me chuckle:
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi queried the verse in Proverbs, All the days of the poor are evil* - but surely they have Shabbat and festivals?
Shmuel said pessimistically, Change of diet leads to indigestion...
(Sanhedrin 101a, Proverbs 15:15)
Talmud which made me sad:
(As a small point in a long discussion about something else entirely) The world cannot exist without both males and females; happy is he whose children are male, and woe to he whose children are female.
Ouch. Way to feel really alienated.
More Talmud which made me chuckle:
Ulla was in Babylon, and he saw dates were on sale. He exclaimed, "A tub of honey for a quarter, and yet the Babylonians don't occupy themselves with Torah study!"
During the night he suffered hideously from overeating, and he exclaimed, "A tub of knives for a quarter, and even so the Babylonians occupy themselves with Torah study!"
(Taanit 9b, and okay he said zuz and not quarter, but I translated for meaning, okay.)
I left my honey jar in the succah.
This was a really really stupid thing to do, because of ANTS.
Next time I saw the honey jar it was seething with ants and you couldn't see the honey because of the drowned ants clogging it. Gross.
The most efficient way of sorting this out is to pour boiling water over the whole lot (ants in my honey do not count as Animals Jen Has Ethical Concerns About).
But in general Ants=Problematically Not Kosher and Boiling Water=Potential For Kashrut Problems so Ants+Boiling Water = Potentially A Very Bad Idea If I Ever Want To Use That Jar Again. And I do because it's cute and it was a present.
Well, hooray for geeky rabbis who are online pretty much right after havdalah and jolly well know their stuff.
Yoreh Deah 81:8, is conveniently most of the answer. Rough translation: Honey from bees is permitted, even if the bees' bodies are mixed up with it, and when we separate the honey from them you can heat it and boil it and that is fine because they are FREAKING GROSS.
So I can pour boiling water on the horrible ants to get my honey jar clean, and that doesn't make the honey jar treif because honey full of ants is not even remotely like food, and "treif" is a food concept.
You hear that, ants? You are so in trouble.
Wednesday, afternoon with tangosiempre
. We went down to Weston Shore for a walk along the beach.
Weston Shore was the only beach I knew for many years. It's mostly shingle and mud, with the occasional patch of sand; I used to find books like Holiday by the Sea
very perplexing, when they went on about beautiful golden sands etc. You don't need a bucket and spade to build castles at Weston, you need a ruddy bulldozer.
Anyway. it's a nice place to go for a walk, when you aren't seven years old and pining for sand. And on the way there we realised that it's blackberry-picking time, yay! and I haven't picked blackberries in England for years and years cos I've been expatriated so long, so yay! but we didn't have anything to put blackberries in.
Happily for us, there was a fair bit of litter washed up on the beach (there always is, okay? This is the Solent. No-one said it was clean), and in no time we had two nice plastic containers with lids, which we pretty soon filled up with luscious blackberries. I also found sweet peas growing wild, and I picked a bunch of them because when you pick sweet peas they flower more so it isn't antisocial to pick them. Down to the shore again for a bit of string to tie the bunch together, and another plastic box, and soon enough I had a big box of shiny black blackberries and bright cerise-pink flowers. Awfully pretty.
Then we got ice-cream, because one of the peculiarities of the English is that they think a proper summer ought to involve walking along a shingle beach in a howling gale eating ice-cream, although if you are over 65 you may sit in your car while you are eating. No matter how revolting the weather, there is always an ice-cream van at windswept points on shingle beaches, manned by a hermit who will make jokes about the weather.
There'll be a Torah post eventually, honest there will. Anybody got anything they'd particularly like me to write about?
I have: cocoa, cream, natural yoghourt, icing sugar.
I do not have: actual chocolate, butter.
I want: chocolate fudge sort of topping.
Intarwebs, please help!
Topping for cupcakes. I've made Gordon Brown Waste-Not-Want-Not banana cupcakes, and they want something on top of them.
And the cream - irritatingly - is single cream.
But I do have egg whites.
I mixed up the cream, the sugar, and some cocoa, and boiled the heck out of it until it stopped bubbling like cream and started bubbling like sugar. Now it's sort of like chocolate fudge caramel. It would actually have been quicker to go down the shop for some butter, but it was an interesting experience.